Excuse me; do you have this in Cantonese?

[editor’s note:] You can read Larissa’s first post on taking the first mental step towards owning a bookshop. Here she takes leap number 2, getting a Book Job.


Excuse me; do you have this in Cantonese?”

I purse my lips at the man who is eyeing me hopefully and holding out a Chinese Phrasebook. I shrug, “I have no idea.” Then I add, “Let’s find out together.”

I found myself a job in a bookstore and thus far, have no idea what I’m doing. But I’m learning as I go. And one valuable thing I’ve learned in my three short weeks of employ is this:

Bookselling is not always about selling books.

Sure, I have a shiny new magnetic name tag that, in lieu of my real name reads, Bookseller (I was promised that a personalized one will one day magically appear before my eyes). Yet, instead of this title, it could read Book Finder, Computer Tech, Cleaning Lady, Don’t ask me – I’m new and, most importantly, Customer Service Agent.

People have a lot of questions when it comes to books. Do you have this in hardcover? What is that author’s name again? How long will my special order take to arrive? How much is this? Do you have this in Cantonese…?

cantonese translation

I eventually found a Speak Cantonese instructional book with accompanying CD. It was right there, on the shelf. (Isn’t it always?) The man thanked me profusely and went on his merry way – most likely to dedicate an entire week to immersing himself in a new and intriguing foreign language before giving up and deciding to learn Spanish instead. (Or is it just me who does this?)

Even though this sale took place during my second week at the quirky independent bookstore I had never set foot in until the day I was hired – and after I had already rang through a handful of books I can’t even remember the names of – I will always think of it as my very first. I found the book and said, “How about this one?” He took it from my hands and nodded happily. And then I felt proud for no real reason at all except that there I was – selling books. Just like I always wanted.

Is it everything I dreamed it would be?

Not exactly.

Am I going to do it for the rest of my life?

I have no idea.

But, do I enjoy it?

Yes. I most certainly do.

And for now, I suppose, that is all I can ask for.

3 thoughts on “Excuse me; do you have this in Cantonese?”

  1. Cantonese, that’s where the book has a terrible cant and looks like it was designed by Picasso for your “reading comfort”.

    Let me show you to the bargain rack…

    Can’t say I’ve ever gotten a request for Cantonese anything. Most of the in-store foreign language requests we get are “classic X in the original language”.

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